The Purpose and Power of Lent

The Power and Purpose of Lent www.annswindell.com

This post is adapted from a piece I wrote originally for RELEVANT Magazine and posted last year.
Click here to read the original article. 

In church tradition, Lent is the season preceding Easter, and it is often set aside as a time of remembrance and repentance. It is a season of preparation, a time of waiting and reflecting.

But is Lent important? Is it worth observing—or at least acknowledging—especially if, like me, you’re not currently part of a liturgical church tradition?

Even after years of not being in a church that intentionally observes Lent, I still think so. Here are some reasons why Lent matters—and how it can point us to the truth of the Gospel in practical, important ways:

Lent Reminds Us That We Need to Repent

Repentance is not an easy pill to swallow; repentance is a call to turn around and away from our sinful ways. First, it means acknowledging that we are sinners, and second, it means saying no to our sin. But repentance is at the very heart of Christianity: we cannot, in fact, follow Jesus without repenting of our way and choosing His way instead (Acts 2:38).

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent. Click To Tweet

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent—and therefore, of our consistent need for a savior. It’s important to remember how desperately we need to be saved from our sin, and that Jesus is the only hope we have to be saved; that reality grounds us in His kindness and goodness.

 Lent Helps Us Pare Down Our Excesses

Historically, Christians have understood Lent as a time when unneeded things are stripped away in order to remind us of our neediness before and for God. Christians still do this today, giving up meat or chocolate, or abstaining from alcohol or watching television.

By taking away things that divert our attention and feed our desires, the season of Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls—and to have our needs met by God first and only.

Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls. Click To Tweet

Lent Points Us to Our Humanity

In college, I was part of a liturgical church in college, and I attended my first Ash Wednesday service. There, I was marked with a cross in ash while hearing the words, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.”

It felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the room; suddenly, I was faced with my own death. As a college student, I rarely thought about my own finiteness, my own frailty. But that declaration over me—that I started from dust and will return to dust—deeply humbled me, in the best of ways.

Lent pointed me back to the truth that all of my value and all of my purpose comes from being a person made in the image of the God who created me and made the way for me to be saved. Apart from Him, I am dust; I am nothing and I have nothing. But because of His great love, my life is worth much more than dust.

Lent Sobers Us—in Order to Prepare Us for Celebration

Lent is a season of reflection—even of mourning—and that attitude flies in the face of the cultural waters most of us swim in. Sobering ourselves by confronting our own brokenness—by pausing our desire to keep things light and easy—is necessary if we want to celebrate the miraculous and life-altering message of Easter.

If we aren’t aware of our sinfulness and need, we won’t be able to comprehend the desperation of Good Friday or the world-changing truth of the Resurrection. Sobering our hearts and minds in preparation for Easter enables us to celebrate more deeply and joyfully, perhaps, than we would have without the solemnness of the season.

Because knowing our true nature, knowing our need for Jesus—makes Easter the best and most necessary Good News we could ever hear.

Read the original article here, at RELEVANT Magazine.

Writing with Grace course www.writingwithgrace.com

Why Christians Need Lent: 4 Reasons it Matters

Why Christians Need LentThis is the start of my newest piece for RELEVANT Magazine.
You can read it here.

Historically, Lent is the season preceding Easter in the church calendar, and it is often observed as a time of reflection and repentance. It is a season of preparation, a time of waiting and remembering.

But is Lent important? Is it worth observing—or at least acknowledging—especially if, like me, you’re not currently part of a liturgical church tradition?

I think so. Here are four reasons Lent matters—and how it can point us to the truth of the Gospel in practical, important ways:

Lent is a Reminder of Our Need to Repent

Repentance is not a sexy word; repentance is a call to turn around and away from our sinful ways. It means first acknowledging that we are sinners, and then saying no to our sin. But repentance is at the very heart of Christianity: we cannot, in fact, follow Jesus without repenting of our way and choosing His way instead (Acts 2:38).

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent. Click To Tweet

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent—and therefore, of our consistent need for a savior. It’s important to remember how desperately we need to be saved from our sin, and that Jesus is the only hope we have to be saved; that reality grounds us in His kindness and goodness.

During Lent, We Pare Down Our Excesses

Traditionally, Christians have understood Lent to be a time when unneeded things are stripped away in order to remind us of our neediness before and for God. Christians still do this today, giving up meat or chocolate, or abstaining from alcohol or watching television.

By taking away things that divert our attention and feed our desires, the season of Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls—and to have our needs met by God first and only.

Read the other two reasons why we need Lent here, at RELEVANT Magazine.

Walking Dust: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

As people of faith, Ash Wednesday is  a day that marks us—figuratively and, in some traditions, literally—for a period of weeks that is meant to change us. Lent seeks to hush our ravenous appetite for ease and excess and, instead, remind us that the way of Christ is neither of those things. The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the dust of the earth and the pain of a cross. It is the way of truth.

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Psalm 103 has long been a favorite of mine; I love the way that the heart of David is uncovered as he declares what he knows to be true of God. Here, David is preaching to his own soul that God is the one who “forgives all of your sins” and “redeems your life from the pit.” David goes on to offer the dizzying image of God as the one who hurtles our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west. And he remembers that God’s love is with those “who fear him”—from “everlasting to everlasting.” This is the Psalm that I read when I need to be reminded of God’s character, for this chapter reminds me of his compassion, his kindness, and his mercy.

Lodged in the middle of one of these mighty declarations, however, is a reminder to the reader of our real state, in verses 13-16.

As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 
for he knows how we are formed,
 
he remembers that we are dust. 
The life of mortals is like grass,
 
they flourish like a flower of the field; 
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
 
and its place remembers it no more.

This verse elicits two responses in me. First, I see the kindness that the Lord has for us: he who is eternal cares for those who are finite. My life is a scratch on the husk of this earth, and yet he has compassion on me. How kind, how good, how loving is this God? But secondly, I am forced to come to terms with the reality that although I am flourishing now, there is a day soon in its coming when I will no longer be here. My body will give out; my skull will become a shell. As it is written in the Book of Common Prayer, one day my body will be “commit[ted] to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

And here is the importance of Ash Wednesday. Whether or not you participate in a church service, you may see men and women walking around today with sooty crosses on their foreheads. Take a second look at the ones you see with these crosses smudged on their faces; that soot is a visceral reminder of our real state.

We are walking dust.

We are walking dust. Click To Tweet

Infused with the breath of life, yes. For now. And although I cling to the hope of Easter each day of my life, believing wholeheartedly that the death of my flesh is not the death of me, I still will face death. As will you. In order to tell the truth, this is where we must start on this Lenten journey. Death comes to all of us. And yet, as David writes in Psalm 103, God still cares for us. He still loves us, has compassion on us, and has made the way for us to be free from all sin so that we do not have to fear this death. This is the hope we are inching toward during Lent, even as we come to terms with our own mortality.